Methane detection jobs booming

This undated handout frame grab taken from video, provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection shows bubbling due to impaired cementing in an unconventional gas well in Pennsylvania. (AP)

A new industry is emerging out of the fight to stop gas leaks in the nation’s oil wells, pipelines and storage tanks.

At least 75 firms across the country now work to detect, stop and prevent methane leaks, according to a new study. More than one-third are located in Texas. Ten have opened in the state since 2010.

The oil and gas industry is the largest single industrial source of U.S. methane emissions, according to the study by North Carolina consultants Datu Research, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund. The natural gas product is a potent greenhouse gas — 80 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

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And oil and gas companies increasingly see the leaks as a financial problem. Such emissions, whether accidental or intended, represent lost product. A 2015 study found that the sector loses $30 billion globally each year from leaked or vented methane at oil and gas facilities. Such leaks also undercut the argument that natural gas is a cleaner fuel. And investors are getting more concerned about both.

But leak detection technology is improving, companies are growing and the industry is now providing “well-paying employment opportunities across the country that cannot be offshored,” according to the study.

Half the firms are small businesses, making less than $15 million a year in revenue. More than half have fewer than 50 employees.

But the companies are growing, the study says. More than one-third were founded within the last 6 years. And revenues are inching up; some reported up to 30 percent growth in states with methane regulations.

The study warns, however, that the growth depends some on regulation. Only five states have rules on the books: California, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. And federal regulation of methane emissions is unclear now as President Donald Trump rolls back the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan.